We can carp and moan about it, or we can search for a solution.
Apples seldom fall far from the tree. In researching my book, Sober Dad, The Manual for Perfectly Imperfect Parenting, I came across an extremely important point.
Alcoholics don’t like authority figures.
Okay, that’s not new news. Nobody likes to be told what to do, or perhaps no class of people is more resentful of authority than alcoholics and addicts.
The revelation I found came from Wendy Mogel’s book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. She asks why children don’t respect authority figures.
She gives surprising insight: that when we undermine the authority of any authority figure, whether it’s a teacher, a cop, or worse, a spouse or partner, we are undermining for the child respect for all authority, including our own.
In other words, we love to criticize other people. Yet we don’t realize the price we’re paying in terms of the respect that we lose from our children.
“Your teacher must be an idiot to give you all that homework,” we say, hoping to be our child’s friend instead of our child’s father.
Or, “That cop is a jerk! I was just keeping up with traffic!”
The lesson that the child takes from this sort of venting is that authority figures are stupid and can be safely ignored.
There’s only one problem, fella.
You are an authority figure in your child’s life, so by undermining respect for the authority of others, you are destroying your child’s authority to respect you.
Mogel makes an interesting point about, of all things, the High Priest who went into the Jewish holy of holies in the great Temple in Jerusalem thousands of years of ago.
The Bible goes into painstaking detail to describe the uniform he wore— the turban, the mitre, the jewels, the robe, and so on.
The Bible meticulously explains how these items are to be created, the specific materials to be used, and how they are to be worn.
Mogel suggests that, as Shakespeare said, clothing makes the man. By donning these extraordinary vestments once a year, the outfit made a deep impression not just on the High Priest, but on all those around him.
In other words, his appearance reinforces his authority.
Mogel writes that we dads undermine our own authority whenever we dress like we’re the world’s oldest teenager, with our baseball cap on backwards and our shirttail sticking out of our unpressed jeans.
When I was a kid, men wore jackets and ties everywhere, and lines of authority were much more clearly drawn.
Even my grandfathers would put on a tie on Sundays when they came to visit, or when we went to visit them.
I’m not saying you have to throw away your jeans, or take an iron to them every time you wear them, or refuse to be seen without a pocket square sticking out of your thousand-dollar suit.
If your child has an authority problem, maybe the real problem is that you are unconsciously destroying his ability or desire to respect authority.
You don’t need to reassert your authority with loud words or strong emotion.
In fact, that will backfire (as you probably have already learned; so did I).
As the great commentator Earl Nightingale once said, “What you’re doing speaks so loudly I can hardly hear a word you’re saying.”
If you want your kids to respect you, maybe you first need to demonstrate that you respect others…and that you respect yourself.
Photo: Getty Images